Friday, August 31, 2012

What's in a name?

Speaking of all things worldly and winey.  I am quite happy to be an Englishwoman, with an Irish surname, living in the USA.  So I can't help but wonder why Mr. Sattui isn't happy being plain, old, American Daryl.
(Public Notice courtesy of The Napa Valley Register, 30th August 2012)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wines of the World.

Although tonight was the second session of my Wines of the World class, it was the first time the class participated in a wine-tasting en masse.
I can't really say I tasted anything memorable, as this session concentrated on variations in grape varieties, vineyard locations and winemaking methods.  However, I can say that I tasted a particular wine that is the butt of many jokes:  Sutter Home, White Zinfandel.  So I especially enjoyed it when the instructor reminded the class that White Zinfandel is not a grape variety in itself.  Oh, how I guffawed!
Instead, tonight's class was an introduction into how to taste wine and was probably a good refresher for all the wine industry people present, myself included.  For instance, how important it is when smelling wine to distinguish between the aroma of the fruit and the bouquet of the winemaking.  Besides, I'd just dropped my family off at SFO and I wasn't really in the mood for wine-tasting.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Just the flax, ma'am.

After about 16 months, and a lot of pestering of different people, I finally have a positive ID on one of the most winsome, diminutive periwinkle-blue flowered weeds I have ever seen.  I had consulted many books and scoured the internet trying to identify this mystery weed, that has grown the last two years in a ditch alongside a neighbours property, but to no avail.  Then a friend suggested I contact John Roncoroni at the UC Davis extension in Napa.  Mr. Roncoroni who is a Weed Science Farm Advisor couldn't help directly, but was kind enough to forward my email on to two wildflower experts at UC Davis:  Ellen Dean and Joe DiTomaso.  Mr. DiTomaso co-wrote Weeds Of California and Other Western States (UC Publication 3488), which is the book on all things weedy in my opinion. Within 45 minutes, Ms. Dean had emailed back myself and Mr. Roncoroni with the ID of this elusive wildflower, which turned out to be not so wild after all - common flax.
Lincum usitatissimum is an annual plant with slender stems arching from a main stem that can reach up to 3 feet in height.  Of the Linaceae family, flax is a widely cultivated plant whose fibres are used in textile production.  High concentrations of Omega 3 fatty acids in flax seed make the plant beneficial to human health and linseed oil extracted from the seed can be useful to carpenters. Flax seed is also widely integrated into animal feeds, which may explain the fact that I found the plant growing in a ditch next to a horse barn.  So flax is a bit of a multi-tasker - apparently Usitatissimum means very useful.
So there you have it.  No more sleepless nights for me spent worrying over this little plant's name (I really need to get a life), thanks to Roncoroni and Dean. The plant itself has now gone to seed. I am hoping it will make a reapperance, same time, same place, next year.  Cute flower.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pegged for success.

I spent the afternoon in the vineyard securing the bird netting, that was applied last Sunday, closely around the fruit on the Pinot grigio vines with common-or-garden clothes pegs.  That should keep my pesky, feathered friends away from the ripening grapes, which incidently are tasting rather sweet already.
Did I ever think years ago, when I was a little girl helping my mother hang clothes out on the clothes line, that I would ever find such a use for the humble peg?  Nope.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Apple sauce.

Whilst Vinomaker practices the art of winemaking here in the Napa Valley, my brother Thud dabbles with the production of dry cider and, most recently, Calvados at home in England. But for arguments sake, let's call it apple brandy because Liverpool isn't in France.  Double distilled from cider Thud made last October, using six vintage apple varieties, the resulting brandy is very rustic in more of a fermier calvados fashion.
Beginning last February, Thud and his cohort Monkey began the first fractional distillation of the cider down to it's elemental character in brandy form, which may or may not have been entirely legal.  The resulting eau de vie, or White Lightning as Vinomaker dubbed it, is pretty crude and raw and a startling 120 proof (second from the left in the photo: the first glass is Pere Magloire).  Diluted with water to about 90 proof, and with the addition of the back-ins or feints, the second distillation refined the brandy down to something more palatable.  Then a couple of months ago, Thud took a portion of the clear brandy and added oven-toasted oak chips which imbued the youthful brandy with a pleasing golden colour and a nutty-toasty nose (second from the right in the photo).  Monkey, on the other hand, experimented with toasted oak shavings (increased surface area) and only aged the mixture for about three weeks, yikes!  This particular oak treatment gave the brandy a deep tawny colouration and a strong charcoal nose (pictured on the right).
Of course, the entire process is a little more complicated than I am going to cover here, e.g. ensuring no methanol is collected is important - or blindness may occur.  All in all, not too shoddy for a first attempt. Actually aging the apple brandy for several years, and perhaps the utilisation of a small oak barrel, will definitely improve the drinking experience.
On another note, I started a new semester at Napa Valley College this evening.  I am taking a wine appreciation class called Wines of the World with my favourite teacher of all time, Dr. Stephen Krebs.  So stay tuned for weekly global wine discoveries.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Four Vs.

For an anniversary tipple, Vinomaker went down to our cellar and selected a mystery wine to pair with our evening repast and, as an aside, give me the opportunity to play a quick guessing-game of The Four Vs; varietal, vintage, valley and value.  I did fairly well.
I guessed the wine was a Cabernet sauvignon blend, a 2000 vintage, from the Napa Valley and selling for about $60.  When unveiled, the wine turned out to be a 1997 Joseph Phelps Insignia. The Insignia was a blend of 83% Cabernet sauvignon, 14% Merlot and 3% Petit verdot.  Despite the high percentage of Cabernet, Phelps choose to label this wine a red table wine.  
So how was the wine?  A deep, deep garnet colour with a brick-red meniscus, the Insignia was very pleasing to the eye.  Up front, a huge blackcurrant aroma wafted out of the glass (very Ribena-like) which mellowed into something much more typically Cab-like.  Beautifully integrated oak with tons of vanilla and a slight hint of cocoa (a high pH perhaps), and a relatively low alcohol of 13.8%.  Well structured tannins hinted that this wine could have aged for many more years to come - if it had survived the disintegrating cork, that is.  As to the value of this wine I haven't the fogiest: the current vintage of Insignia, the 2008, sells for $200.    
Being a bit of a Doubting Thomas when it comes to all things Napa-cultish I was shocked, shocked I tell you, at how fine this wine was. The 1997 vintage was considered to be one of the finest ever in the Napa Valley, but up to this point I personally haven't had great experiences with the way this vintage is aging.  This bottle was a thank you gift from a friend, who I'm pretty sure would have bought it by the case, so I'll have to email him and see if he has opened a bottle lately and compare tasting notes.  The 1997 Insignia was a truly wonderful wine.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The net result...

...hopefully will be a 2012 vintage of Pinot grigio.  Today, Vinomaker and I installed new bird-netting on our Pinot grigio vines.  And not a moment too soon as one vine had already been manhandled, or rather bird-handled, beyond recognition by hungry avian-gourmands.  This is what a 5,000 foot roll of bird-netting  looks like.
Not exactly the most romantic way to spend a wedding anniversary, but I had a great time working alongside my favourite winemaker, with the Vinodogs in tow, in our little home vineyard.
Happy anniversary Vinomaker.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Main Street Reunion 2012.

Wild horses be damned: not even a disaster of biblical proportions could keep me from attending one of my favourite annual downtown Napa events.  This is the fifth year in a row that I have enjoyed roaming around the heart of Napa for the Main Street Reunion car show.  A little smaller this year, with only about 380 cars being shown, I simply never tire of looking at the big, shiny-chrome, heavy-metal, mobile hulks of Americana past. And although I love the brilliant hued paint jobs, including the baby blues and powder pinks on the countless Buicks and Chevrolets present, it was this monochromatic, matte finish on a particular 1934 Ford Coupe that really caught my eye.
Afterwards, my family shared food and fun until the setting sun brilliantly illuminated the eastern hills of Napa, with Vinomaker and Thud quaffing quite a bit of Calvados, ensuring a good time was had by all.
Vroom, vroom!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A controlled state.

In further answer to Thud's question, in the comment section of my last post, there are a lot of things that are indeed normal in Utah - food, toasty weather and loving family members.  However, in some ways Utah-normal is very different from the California-normal that I have become accustomed to by living in the Golden State for so many years.  One of the biggest differences for me, and one which I consider to be grossly abnormal, is the existence of state run liquor stores.
Alcohol beverage control states, commonly known just as control states, are states that exert a state monopoly over the wholesaling and/or retailing of some or all alcoholic beverages.  Utah, along with seventeen other states, is a control state.  As an adult, a wine lover and an Englishwoman having restricted access to all things alcoholic is anathema to me.  Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that there are some walks of life that government should not meddle with.  Ergo, the informed decision by a consenting adult to consume alcohol should not be of concern to any legislature, state or federal.  But let's face it, the USA's attitude to alcohol on the whole is very different from the norm that I grew up with in England - the land of the free is after all  the country that visited the Volstead Act upon it's hapless citizens.
From the Utah state government's point of view, is there a better way to collect profit and taxes from exercising a monopoly over the sale of alcohol?  I don't think so.  Cha ching!  As it turned out, I was more than happy to fork over some tax revenue to the state of Utah.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the particular state run liquor store that I visited, in Springville, had an impressive variety of domestic and foreign wines to choose from and I exited the premises with two Italian whites.  If for some reason I found myself residing in Utah, I would probably be fairly satisfied with the rather decent assortment of wines available to me.  The prices were normal and in the end it didn't matter who ran the store.
Now, don't get me started on the national 21 year old minimum drinking age...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Where in the world is Vinogirl?

I'm in Utah. 
Normal transmission will resume shortly...

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Pinot grigio triplets.

Heading out with the Vinodogs for a walk, after getting off work this evening, I took a quick peek in the Pinot grigio block to see how veraison was coming along.  One word, fantastic, would describe the Pinot grigio's progression through the 2012 growing season thus far.  After a quick discussion with Vinomaker over dinner about bird-netting, I think we know what we have to do...and the sooner the better!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The time is ripe...

...for veraison.  Whilst I have been busy with visiting family members, bottling wine and my day job, Vinoland's grapes decided it was time to get serious about vintage 2012.  All four grape varieties are showing signs of veraison in varying stages.  Of course it means a little extra work for myself and Vinomaker: we now have to get the bird netting up on the Pinot grigio vines so that there will be some grapes left for us to harvest.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Coffee break.

The third of four bottling events took place today: Vinoland's Cabernet sauvignon and Syrah are now recovering from bottle shock down in the cellar.  It was thirsty work, so Thud, family OTW and I went down to the Oxbow Public Market afterwards for a well deserved cup of java from Ritual Coffee Roasters.  And a very nice cup of coffee it was.
Photograph by Princess OTW.